How Evil is Negan, Really?
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How Evil is Negan, Really?

A different way to view TWD's biggest baddie.

How Evil is Negan, Really?

With the return of "The Walking Dead," I wanted to take some time to reflect on one of my favorite characters ever, Negan. While most viewers/comic readers see him as simply an evil character, there is so much going on behind the scenes with Negan that makes him fascinating, despite how heinous he is. This article will contain spoilers for "The Walking Dead" season 7, "The Walking Dead" comic books, and the "Here’s Negan" comic books. If you don’t want to be spoiled, click away!

Negan is evil. There’s no way around that statement. This article isn’t trying to paint Negan as a character to be praised, rather, it serves to examine why Negan behaves the way he does. None of these things will excuse the way Negan behaves, but it adds a layer of depth to his character that isn’t apparent on the show yet.

I think the main driving factor for Negan is his self-esteem issues. "Here’s Negan" shows who Negan was before the apocalypse started. He was a school coach. He had a wife, but he also cheats on her. Negan never lies to his mistress or his wife--they both know there’s someone else. When Negan’s wife is diagnosed with cancer, his mistress forces him to go home because he is thinking of his wife and not of her. When Negan goes home to his wife and tells her that he’s ended things with his mistress, she reacts in anger, asking him why he would pick the woman in his life who is dying. Further, when Negan is taking care of his wife, he cries because he knows that she will die. His wife scolds him for crying in public. Both Negan’s wife and his mistress show a blatant disregard for who Negan is as a human being. Negan’s mistress was apparently only using him for physical pleasure and Negan’s wife cannot accept her husband’s love or grief over her illness. Granted, his wife definitely has reason to despise Negan, with the affair situation, but she knew and didn’t leave him. She doesn’t have to accept that Negan is trying to make it up to her in the last few months of her life, but she also doesn’t have to make him feel worse than he already does. These two women set a foundation that emphasizes a part of Negan’s character; he can’t win for losing. If he goes home to his wife, it isn’t the right move. If he stays with his mistress, it isn’t the right move. Neither of these women are shown to genuinely care for him, although he is shown to love his wife very deeply. Neither of these women value Negan for who he is as a person.

Is it then surprising that Negan doesn’t see the value in himself? He encounters a group on the road while he’s stealing their gasoline. They demand that he give them their fuel, but Negan uses physical threats to get them to come with him. He then lets his new-found group down when he reveals that he cannot hotwire a car. His new group is angry with him. This occurrence furthers the point that Negan has no skills that will help him survive in the new world, except for his physical strength.

While Negan initially shows remorse for killing walkers, as they were once people, he quickly becomes desensitized to the new world, largely because he watched his wife turn and kissed her goodbye while she tried to eat him. Perhaps Negan has a repressive coping style, because within a couple panels of his wife dying, he seems to be unaffected by it. Moving on this quickly seems unlikely, given how much he was shown to love his wife. He is already doing what he has to do to survive.

Negan keeps finding people on the road, but they all die, to his dismay. As of right now, the Here’s Negan comics leave off with him finding Dwight, a huge player in Negan’s Sanctuary. In the coming installments, the reader can expect that Negan will find a way to keep Dwight alive and they will find more people. Right now, these comics are setting the stage for Negan’s commitment to keeping his people safe, no matter the cost, no matter what he has to do.

Negan cannot see a world in which people would want him around because of who he is as a person. Before the world fell apart, neither his wife nor his mistress wanted him around. Why would the new world be any better for him? Negan sees that he has limited things going for him. He’s like Eugene in this way. Negan uses his physical strength and skills at manipulation the same way Eugene uses his intelligence and ability to lie. Negan creates a group in which people worship him, mostly because he’s never been wanted before. The apocalypse hits, and Negan designs a world where he finally feels valued.

It’s also possible that Negan is partially creating a different reality in his mind to cope with what is going on around him. He names his weapon of choice after his dead wife. He often talks about his baseball bat as though it is a real, live woman. Several times he explains that he’s a nice guy, it’s just Lucille who’s a stickler for the rules. When Carl shoots Lucille instead of Negan, Negan becomes extremely agitated and demands Carl be thrown over the walls of the Alexandria Safe Zone so that he can kill him for what he’s done. This doesn’t seem like something a person in their right mind would do. Most people would be grateful that they hadn’t been shot. Negan also sometimes makes sexual remarks about his baseball bat, Lucille. When baseball bat Lucille meets her end, Negan buries the bat and expresses that it’s a placeholder for the funeral his wife never had. He says that he hopes his wife is in Heaven and is in love with someone who is much better to her than he ever was.

Also, in terms of actions, Negan and Abraham aren’t too different. Abraham beats other survivors to death because they raped his wife and daughter in the comic books. Negan kills David, one of his own men, for attempting to rape Holly. This act shows Negan’s commitment to preserving some sense of morality, even if that morality doesn’t include the idea that it’s wrong to kill people just so the rest of their group will follow you. In the comics, Abraham kills a group of strangers his group encounters on the road because they were trying to steal food. They were just trying to survive, but Abraham killed them anyway. Is this really that much different than Negan’s principle of killing a member of a group upon encounter to ensure that nothing gets out of hand? I cannot condemn Abraham for doing what he felt was best to save Eugene and Rosita, so I struggle with writing Negan’s actions off as being evil without considering his motivation.

Much of who Negan is stems from the loss of his wife and the way he was treated before the apocalypse. Before the world fell apart, Negan could’ve gotten help. He doesn’t have that option when he’s struggling to survive. Negan is living life day-to-day, doing what he feels is best. He doesn’t have time to work through his issues, he just has to survive.

Negan also shows a great amount of compassion at times. When he upsets Carl by talking about his damaged eye, Negan feels horrible when Carl starts to cry. When he upsets Olivia by talking about her weight, she slaps him. He accepts what she has done because he can acknowledge that he said something that was out of line. When one of his wives, Amber, cheats on him with her ex-husband, he is very calm and explains to her that she is not obligated to be with him. He tells her that she’s free to leave him, she’ll just have to live without the perks she gets for being with him. This brings in the issue of coerced consent, but the fact remains that there are ways to survive in the Sanctuary without being one of Negan’s wives. If anything, this is more analogous to an apocalyptic form of prostitution, because his wives are trading their bodies for better housing and better food. It doesn’t make what Negan does right, but it isn’t as bad as it might seem. (Sidenote, this point does not apply to Sherry on the show, as she had to become Negan’s wife to save Dwight’s life.)

I don’t forgive him for his atrocities. I do forgive him for being broken and doing the best he can. Negan is someone who couldn’t see his own worth. In a world where only the strong survive, it makes sense that he would become a leader by any means necessary.

Negan is a terrible person. But under that, I see in his character a man who doesn’t feel worthy of anyone genuinely appreciating him. I see a man who desperately just wants to be enough.

If Negan is a study in anything, he’s a study of a human being who feels so terrible about himself that he becomes terrible on the outside. He’s a study of the way untreated mental illness can scar a person so badly that they get bits and pieces of what life should be. Negan even admits to this, stating that he just can’t feel things correctly since he lost someone close to him. I cannot say if he would’ve gotten help if the world hadn’t fallen apart, but I can’t condemn him for his inability to really feel and understand the world around him.

I love the character of Negan because of his complexity. Moving forward, I really hope readers learn more about the inner workings of his mind. I hope the TV show does his character justice and, instead of painting him as simply evil, allows some of his comic personality to show through.

All of these points emphasize why Jeffrey Dean Morgan was the perfect casting choice. He gets it. He was quoted as saying of his character soon after the season 7 premiere, “I'm not going to make excuses for him, but in this world, the people that have survived this long since the zombie apocalypse all have done things that are bad. Negan just happens to take a little bit of glee in exercising justice, but this is a man who also leads a group of people and keeps them alive. Rick's group has killed more than 20 of his men, and so far Negan has only touched two of them."
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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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